RICHMOND -- About 700 new state laws took effect yesterday, touching the lives of Northern Virginians on issues ranging from AIDS to zoning -- and many things in between.
The 1987 session of the General Assembly will be remembered as one of the most productive and progressive of recent times, particularly with the passage of landmark legislation on tax and insurance reform, a phosphate detergent ban, a seat belt law, the mechanism for a state lottery and other proposals that once were doomed in the Capitol here.
But the real legacy of this particular legislature, whose members are up for reelection in November, was the way this year's session touched everyday lives. As of this week, buying liquor, obtaining a marriage license or Fairfax County car sticker, deer hunting, buying and operating a boat, and collecting delinquent taxes in Arlington, to name just a few things, may never be the same again.
Every year about this time, the state issues a compendium of new Virginia laws, and this year's edition is a trivia-lover's delight. Be aware that, as of yesterday, the Virginia State Library officially became the Virginia State Library and Archives; similarly, the name of the state Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, always a mouthful, now ends with the words "and Substances Abuse Services."
In another sign of the times, Virginia now has a law creating a 13-member Child Day-Care Council, which is to promulgate regulations for licensed day care centers. And, for another growing segment of the state's population -- its prison inmates -- the state now has authority to borrow $110 million to build a new penitentiary, probably at a great distance from the Washington suburbs.
Closer to home, Arlington County may now employ private agents to collect delinquent local taxes other than those on real estate. Lucky others will never fear the tax people again: The Falls Church Housing Corp., the Saint Mary's Housing Corp. and Pathway Homes Inc. in Fairfax County and the Second Saint Mary's Housing Corp. in Prince William County have been designated charitable or benevolent organizations and are exempt from local real estate taxes.
So, too, are several Lynchburg properties owned by the Old Time Gospel Hour of television evangelist Jerry Falwell, who paid two Richmond lobbyists $50,000 to win a tax break worth millions of dollars over time.
The Falwell tax break sparked one of the most intense debates of the assembly session, but all the church-versus-state oratory paled next to the impassioned rhetoric over a requirement that deer hunters wear bright orange clothing.
Starting this fall, Virginia's forests may be a bit safer as law-abiding hunters stalk their prey wearing the safety apparel. Last year, 13 people who were not equipped with "blaze orange" gear died in hunting accidents.
Also effective yesterday, no one under 21 may buy alcoholic beverages in Virginia; those convicted of drunken driving will pay a higher fee -- $300 instead of $250 -- to join the state's Alcohol Safety Action Program.
Game wardens have the new power to stop and arrest boaters for drunkenness. If you are buying a boat -- probably a big boat in this case -- the state has capped at $1,000 the state sales tax on that purchase.
Applicants for marriage licenses will be given information on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and Fairfax County residents will not be able to obtain new county license decals for their cars until they pay parking fines.
Finally, those Northern Virginians seeking a gentler commute may want to consider moving to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, where, as of yesterday, it is possible to drive an unlicensed golf cart down the island's highways.